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10 High

Jul 08, 2023

From celebrities to heads of State, some of the world's wealthiest and most famous celebrities owned the opulent S600 Pullman

The Mercedes-Benz W100 Grosser was one of the last cars Mercedes built without budgetary constraints - a true icon that demonstrated what cars could be if manufacturers paid little attention to profit. Nevertheless, Mercedes had to recoup some money, which made it expensive. In the car world, the Grosser was the equivalent of an aircraft carrier; it took a lot of time to make. Therefore, Mercedes produced only 2,677 units during the vehicle’s 18-year stint.

Introduced at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1963, the Grosser was massive, fast, opulent, and technologically advanced. A hydraulic system powered virtually everything that moved - seats, windows, locks, sunroof, and the trunk lid. Mercedes used the system because it was faster and more refined than the electric motors of the mid-20th century. A drawback of using the high-pressure hydraulic system to lower and raise windows was that the speed of the window depended on how hard you pressed the switch - when pushed hard enough, the window shot up so ferociously that it could inflict a serious injury.

It was a minor inconvenience considering the luxuries on offer: effortless power from a 6.3-liter V-8, a leather and wood interior, super-comfortable ride, climate control, and a sunroof. Optional extras included a place to store a smoking pipe, a minibar, and a phone. Mercedes also armored the car upon request, making the S600 popular among dictators. The vehicle was also popular among celebrities. Here are 10 high-profile people who swore by the Mercedes S600 Grosser.

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Jay Leno is a massive automotive car enthusiast with a jaw-dropping car collection. Therefore, when he says he considers his 1972 Mercedes-Benz S600 one of his favorite cars, you take notice. The Benz had a 6.3-liter V8 as stock, which produced 250 horsepower and 371 pound-feet. It made enough power to propel the 3-tonne (some Grossers weighed up to 4.0 tonnes) to a top speed of 130 MPH. In the mid-20th century, a 130 MPH top speed was impressive.

In today’s climate, however, 130 MPH is… there is no other word for it: slow. In keeping with the times, Jay Leno mated an aftermarket supercharger to his Merc’s big V8, boosting its output to 525 horsepower. Leno said he loves the mechanical nature of the Grosser, which makes it easier to repair compared to the heavily computerized vehicles of today.

When John Lennon called Daimler requesting a vehicle reflecting his wealth and transcendent status, the manufacturer offered its flagship model, the Grosser. Per John Lennon’s request, Mercedes installed black velvet-lined seats and painted the car creamy swan white. Further, the manufacturer lined the rear passenger compartment with wood trim and fitted a Phillips record player.

Lennon used the vehicle for two years before selling it to fellow Beatle George Harrison. George, the band’s lead guitarist, also used the car for two years before selling it to Mary Wilson of Motown fame. Wilson used the vehicle to ferry her group, The Supremes, on tour. Following heavy use by three of the world’s most beloved artists, Mercedes-Benz restored the car as requested by its Finnish owner. Despite its star-studded ownership history, the Grosser failed to find a buyer at auction in 2001.

Jack Nicholson is a certified Hollywood A-lister. Nicholson may not have purchased the Grosser had Warner Bros. chosen another vehicle to star in the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick. The car took an absolute pounding during the shoot. Daryl Van Horne, Nicholson’s character, crashed out of the vehicle’s back window; during the final chase, the car careered into a concrete wall.

Nicholson fell for the Grosser during filming. He purchased whatever was left of it from Warner Bros. and restored it. The vehicle, finished in glossy purple paint, shows no signs of the abuse it endured in the 1980s. Nicholson no longer owns the car; he gave it to the Petersen Automotive Museum.

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Elvis Presley reportedly purchased two Mercedes S600s, one of which he gave to fellow artist Jimmy Velvet shortly before his death. Velvet opened the Elvis Museum, where the huge S600 took up center stage. He later sold it to the head of Dollar General. The car received a suspension, brake, and exhaust refresh before a new owner acquired it in the early 2000s.

The Silver Grosser sold for nearly $290,000 in late 2020 (Elvis purchased it for $17,399). Elvis’ Mercedes sold for more than double the average price of a Grosser at the time simply because of its famous owner. It makes you wonder why the similarly-priced, John Lennon-owned S600 failed to find an owner at auction despite having three famous owners. Elvis’s car came with a letterhead with the ‘TCB Logo’, 33 vinyl records, a ‘TCB’ logo shot glass, and newspaper clippings.

Ringo Starr was the first Beatle to own a Mercedes S600 - the purchase inspired John Lennon to order his Grosser. Starr purchased the vehicle in 1968; the registration document bears the name Richard Starkey, Ringo’s real name, and his Tittenhurst Park address. Derek Barnes, a Blackburn, England, native eventually purchased the car.

He used it for several years before auctioning it in late 1995. Barnes said he bought the vehicle due to its history. However, as he used the car, he appreciated its engineering excellence. The car was recently displayed at the Fox Classic Car Collection in Melbourne, Australia.

The first owner of Jay Kay’s Mercedes S600 was Coco Chanel, who had it delivered to Paris, France. The Grosser eventually found its way to Jay Kay of Jamiroquai fame. Kay’s S600 has a tan interior with burl wood trims, air conditioning, and a Clarion stereo. The vehicle initially had gray metallic paint; one of its owners painted it black.

Kay sold the car to a person in the Netherlands who sold it to a dealer. The dealer corrected the paint, installed a new windshield, and replaced the chrome door trim. They also serviced the suspension, exhaust, and brakes, installed replacement hoses, rebuilt calipers, and resurfaced rotors.

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Hugh Hefner owned two Mercedes Grossers: one was bought in 1969 from a car dealership in Illinois near his first Playboy mansion; the other was purchased two years later. The 1969 car, which had the custom plate ‘69’, had a black interior, a champagne compartment, a sunroof, and a glove box lined with pink fluff. Besides having a red interior and a television in the rear, the 1971 model was identical to its ‘69 sibling.

Property developer David Blackmore bought the vehicles after Hefner sold them to private owners - he purchased the ‘69 S600 from Barrett-Jackson and the ‘71 Grosser from a Florida car dealership. Blackmore said he wanted to sell the vehicles to free up space for other cars. However, he said he wouldn’t sell either vehicle for less than $300,000.

During his Top Gear days, Jeremy Clarkson bought a Grosser and drove it during one of the show’s episodes, giving us a glimpse of what it would be like to live with the car today. He noted several drawbacks, including that the Grosser is too big for modern urban centers. Further, the old-school S600 may be cheap to buy - he bought it for 25,000 pounds - but ridiculously expensive to maintain - before selling it, the previous owner spent 15,000 on a single service.

Conversely, the episode highlighted the vehicle’s impressive build quality. Despite being decades old, the hydraulic system worked without a glitch, and the independent air suspension still ironed out any imperfections on the road. Clarkson also humorously demonstrated the ear-shattering bellow of the S600 air horn.

Over a sixty-year career that started in the 1950s, the prodigiously talented Bobby Womack created music across several genres, including gospel, Jaz, R&B, and hip hop. He used a tiny fraction of his fortune to buy a Mercedes S600 Grosser. Womack’s car inspired a hit by Janis Joplin, which Mercedes used on a television commercial in 1995.

Womack wrote in the autobiography Midnight Mover that Janis burst into song as she rode in his new Merc. In the lyrics, she asked God to buy her a Benz as all her friends, who’d refused to help her career, had Porsches. The song, titled Mercedes-Benz, featured in Joplin’s second solo album, Pearl. Janis didn’t buy a Mercedes; she purchased a 1964 Porsche 356 C Cabriolet, which sold for $1.76 million at auction.

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David Bowie’s Grosser was rather special. It was one of the 59 Landaulet variants built by Mercedes and was previously owned by the President of Sierra Leone. Bowie’s presidential Grosser had a convertible top, which he lowered to wave to fans or sign autographs. Mercedes stopped producing the Landaulet S600 a year before it discontinued the famed S600.

Bowie often used the car on tour. During the London leg of his 1976 Station to Station tour, he was driven to performance venues in his Benz. The convertible Mercedes allowed him to mingle with his adoring fans. The fate of Bowie’s S600 is unclear. Given the rarity of Landaulet Grossers and the car’s ownership history, it would fetch a decent amount today.

Moses Karomo is an enthusiastic automotive writer who can talk and write endlessly about EVs. He has extensive automotive reporting experience, writing about all manner of automotive topics. He keeps up with innovations and trends in the car industry to provide readers with up-to-date information about the ever-evolving automotive industry. When not writing, Moses is traveling or cooking.